The National Hockey League (NHL) opens its 2021-22 season on October 12 with a new team in the fold and plans to play a full 82-game regular season for the first time in almost three years. The 32-team league starts roughly a week later than normal, with training camps for NHL teams scheduled to open on September 22.
Opening Night will be highlighted by a doubleheader on the NHL’s new partner network ESPN. The two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning will raise their 2020-21 Stanley Cup banner before hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins in Tampa Bay, followed by the first-ever regular-season game for the expansion franchise Seattle Kraken at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas against the Vegas Golden Knights.
This season will also see the New York Islanders break ground at their new arena at Belmont Park in November, two outdoor games including the 2022 NHL Winter Classic featuring the Minnesota Wild hosting the St. Louis Blues on New Year’s Day, and a resumption of the NHL Stadium Series games, with the Nashville Predators hosting the Lightning in Tennessee on February 26. The league has yet to commit to whether its players will take part in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
As the final seconds of the 2020-21 season ticked down to zero, bookmakers made the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lighting the opening favorites for the 2021-22 season. Now with the expansion draft and the short off-season behind us, things have changed slightly.
The betting public and bookmakers agree that by making the most of free agency deals, roster moves, and the NHL Draft, the Colorado Avalanche now sits at the top of the Stanley Cup betting market at +500, now slightly better than Tampa Bay at +575, and ahead of the Golden Knights +700, the Toronto Maple Leafs +1200, and the Boston Bruins +1300. The Lightning opened at +500 at the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Colorado edged their way to Presidents Cup success last season but was unable to parlay their regular season to anything better than another second-round elimination. Colorado has lost in the second round of the playoffs three straight seasons and has not advanced past the Western Conference semi-finals since the 2001-02 season. Adding insult to injury, General Manager Joe Sakic was facing an uncertain off-season with league expansion and free agency.
The team responded with what critics are calling one of its better offseason in years all things considered.
The off-season began with losing depth forward Joonas Donskoi to Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. Donskoi scored 33 goals and recorded 64 points in 116 games with Colorado over two seasons, but was left exposed due to his $3.9 million cap hit. Exposing him was a calculated gamble that likely paid off in terms of freeing up money for the team and Sakic.
The NHL draft was one of the deepest in years, however, Colorado only had four picks, and none of them were high. The Avalanche took forward Oskar Olausson (HV 71 Sweden) at #28 and defenseman Sean Behrens (U-18 USNTDP) at #61. Olausson is a naturally gifted, rugged forward who played last season in Sweden’s top men’s league as an 18-year-old, and was a solid if not safe pick late in the first round.
Free agency was next and it was somewhat of a mixed bag. Notable free agency subtractions were forward Brandon Saad and goalie Philipp Grubauer. Saad was an expected cap casualty and signed with the St. Louis Blues. The team hopes to retain Grubauer but ultimately he signed with the expansion Seattle Kraken for $5.9 million, which Colorado simply could not afford to pay him.
On the positive side, they locked in Cale Makar for the next six years at $9 million a year and resigned team captain Gabriel Landeskog, solidifying what is arguably the best first line in hockey with Nathan MacKinnon and Niko Rantanen. Netminding was addressed when Sakic traded longtime prospect, Conor Timmins, for former Minnesota Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper is just another safe bet in what will certainly be a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup this season.
Bookies Back the Avalanche
Despite a hectic offseason, the leading online betting shops have stuck elevated Colorado and are now pricing them as betting favorites to win both the Central Division and the Stanley Cup. The odds on the division betting have them way ahead of closest rivals Wild with the underdog Dallas Stars and Blues well off the pace.